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Saliva cancer test ‘five years away’, NHS letting mental health patients puff away and an advert for oral hygiene

A £5 saliva test to check patients’ risk of major cancers could be just five years away as a result of ‘groundbreaking’ research, the Telegraph reports this morning. The test could be offered in GP surgeries and would allow more ‘personalised’ preventative treatment in people found to be at high risk of the diseases, while those at lower risk could potentially be spared additional, more invasive tests.

Researchers looked at 200,000 genetic variants in over 100,000 cancer patients and found 49 that up the risk of breast cancer, 23 that increase the risk of prostate cancer and 11 that predispose women to ovarian cancer. They hope to develop tests to analyse saliva for these variants – which could be done by GPs.

Professor Ros Eeles from the Institute for Cancer Research said the test could be ‘widely available within five years’, while a version for women already know to be at high risk of breast cancer could be ready in 18 months.

That’s all very well, but in the meantime the NHS is ignoring one of its biggest risk factors – smoking – in people with mental health conditions, the BBC reports. According to the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, rates of smoking have not changed much among mentally ill people over the past 20 years – in stark contrast to the rest of the population, in which rates have fallen substantially.

The colleges’ report found that smoking has become engrained in the culture of mental health services and called for them to be made smoke-free environments as a priority.

Professor John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘The patients are seen as having a hard time and are ill so they need a cigarette and it is also a way for staff to build relationships so they end up facilitating smoking breaks, finding time to supervise people who want to go outside to smoke, rather than spending resources on helping them to stop.’

And finally, keeping up the prevention theme… if ever there was a good advert for brushing your teeth regularly, it could be this report from the Daily Mail based on a study that found men with severe gum disease are more likely to have erectile dysfunction. The research, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, showed that 53% of men with erectile dysfunction had severe gum disease, compared with 23% of those without it. Bacteria from the mouth may trigger an immune response that contributes to atherosclerosis and damages the blood vessels, the paper suggests.

Dr Nigel Carter from the British Dental Health Foundation commented: ‘The link may seem frivolous, but the research clearly points to severe gum disease as a possible cause of erectile dysfunction.’